May 2012 - Overtaking Boat Must Keep Clear II?

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May 2012 - Overtaking Boat Must Keep Clear II?

Last month, I talked about several situations where the overtaking boat does not have to keep clear. This month I will discuss a few more situations. The basic rule is still rule 12.
When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead.

(click on the diagram to see a larger cleaner version)

In the diagram, the yellow boat is approaching the line to start. She realizes that she is too early so she heads up to slow down. To slow down even further, she pushes out and backs her mainsail. This causes her to start sailing backwards from position 3 where she was over the line to position 4, where contact with blue is imminent. The blue boat is clear astern on the same tack as yellowand it would therefore seem that rule 12 would applyand blue must keep clear.. There are however some exceptions.


When rule 21 or 22 applies between two boats, Section A rules do not.
21.2     A boat taking a penalty shall keep clear of one that is not.
21.3     A boat moving astern by backing a sail shall keep clear of one that is not.

Rule 21.3 specifically addresses our situation – the yellow boat is moving astern by backing her sail, so this seems to apply to her. But what of the blue boat? Moving ahead, is she still governed by rule 12? We have two seemingly contradictory rules for one situation, but the preamble to section D, which includes rule 21, helps us sort out which one applies.

Since rule 21.3 applies and its section preamble states that section A rules, including rule 12, do not, , yellow must keep clear of blue.

​(click on the diagram to see a larger cleaner version)

The situation in the second diagram also involves an exception found in rule 21. The white boat is quite a bit ahead of the purple boat. She breaks a rule in a situation involving another boat not shown here, so she decides to do a two-turns penalty (often known as a 720). She bears off, gybes and tacks, and finds herself right in front of purple at position 7. They are on the same tack with the white boat clear ahead. The purple boat is going faster, so at position 8 there is minor contact.

Since white is taking a penalty, rule 21.2 applies and white has to keep clear of purple. She isn’t even finished the first penalty and now she has to take a second. This is not a good way to start a season.

After looking at all of these exceptions, it is important to remember that in most cases, the basic rule does apply.

© Copyright 2012 Andrew Alberti
Posted: 5/31/2012 12:56:32 PM by Andrew Alberti

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This page provides links to a set of articles original published in Kwasind magazine. The versions here include animated diagrams. The original articles can be found within the original magazines which are available online back to January 2007. 

Articles before December 2020 are based on the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-12 or 2013-2016 or 2017-2020 and have not been updated to reflect the changes that apply as of January 2021 with the publication of the Racing Rules of Sailing 2021-24. A copy of the new rules can be found on
Andrew Alberti has been writing these monthly articles in the Kwasind since early 1997.  They explain the Racing Rules of Sailing. Andrew is an International Judge and National Umpire. He is a member of the Sail Canada Rules and Appeals Committees. The interpretation of the rules contained in the articles is Andrew's and not that of the RCYC or any of the committees he sits on. 

Send your questions to Andrew at [email protected].


166 Years of Tradition | World-Class Sailing | Toronto Island & City Clubhouse
After You Cross The Finishing Line I
Tacking III
Tacking II
Publication Changes and Tacking
How to Finish
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